CHAMPAIGN — The News-Gazette and its sister radio stations are moving for the second time in the past two years, but this particular move has special significance for the company that bought the media operations out of bankruptcy in November 2019.
This move is “the next step to investing in this community,” said Paul Barrett, executive vice president and publisher of Champaign Multimedia Group and The News-Gazette.
The newspaper and WDWS-WHMS-WKIO radio stations are in the final stages of moving to a nearby building the company bought at 2101 Fox Drive, C.
Barrett said the company knew, in completing the purchase of The News-Gazette group of media outlets, that its old headquarters at 15 Main St. in downtown Champaign would be too large for the space needed going forward.
Barrett said the company had hoped to work out a purchase of the building it has been leasing at 201 Devonshire Drive, C, since the newspaper and radio stations moved from downtown, “but the pricing didn’t work out with the owner. After a year or so, we knew we were at a dead end and decided to find a suitable building to purchase.”
The Devonshire property has since been bought for $2.5 million by Niemann Foods, the Quincy-based grocery and retail chain that operates local County Market, Harvest Market and Haymakers grocery and convenience stores, among others.
With the Devonshire property right across the road from Harvest Market and a Haymakers location, Niemann spokesman Gerry Kettler said the chain bought it for parking and future (and still-unplanned) development.
Community Multimedia Group LLC bought the new building at 2101 Fox Drive for $1,173,000.
“We were fortunate to find 2101 Fox Drive, a great updated building right in our backyard,” Barrett said. “We wanted to build new studios for the radio group and more modern accommodations for our staff, and the Fox Drive building fit those plans perfectly.
“It’s important that the community know we’re here to stay, investing in a modern facility with room to grow.”
Barrett said the company still has about a year left on its lease at Devonshire, and has talked with Niemann Foods and potential tenants about subleasing the space.
“Niemann Foods indicated it would be amenable to a sublease, provided they approved the tenant,” he said.
Barrett, who came out of retirement to financially rebuild the newspaper and radio group, characterized the company as currently “very solid,” as well as “profitable” and “certainly growing.”
In a bit over a year, the number of digital subscriptions has tripled, he said.
Had it not been for the pandemic, Barrett said, the company would be even farther ahead in its growth plans. The company had planned to begin sponsoring several community events before the pandemic, he added.
Barrett sees the biggest growth ahead continuing to be in the digital market, though the company remains committed to keeping a print edition.
“The print edition will be with us for many years to come,” Barrett said.
Part of the company’s plans to restore the newspaper and radio operations to profitability has been to consolidate operations in buildings it owns, Barrett said.
“We want to own our own properties,” he said.
Another example of that has been remodeling the former home of the radio stations at 2301 S. Neil Street, C, and turning it into the company’s post-press division, which includes circulation, Barrett said.
In addition to the year left on the lease on the Devonshire building, a few leased spaces remain, two of them being used to store old post-press equipment, Barrett said.
While much of the move to the Fox Drive building was being completed this past week, Barrett said the company should be fully out of the Devonshire location by the end of the month.
There will be signs on the doors at Devonshire directing customers to the new location, and no business downtime is anticipated.
All department and staff phone numbers and email addresses will remain the same, as will office hours at the new building, he said.